This may sound surprising, but ARMS is really one of the first NYC bands I ever heard. It started out as a solo project from ex-Harlem Shakes member Todd Goldstein. The song was “Heat and Hot Water”, and the year was 2009 - I was 16. The setting was an NYU dorm room. I don’t think I had ever fallen in love with a song like I fell in love with that song, playing it over and over and over again much to the annoyance of everyone around me. Naturally, I was thrilled when I heard about the band’s new album, Summer Skills, released in November, but upon first listen what I heard exceeded even my wildest expectations. The album (which features a newly recorded version of my favorite song) is beautiful and blissfully melancholy in the best kind of way. Songs like “Sore” and “Curtains” stir up nostalgic feelings that you can’t quite put your finger on but are powerful and passionate like the best summer memories. After listening to Summer Skills, mark my words: big things will be happening for the sensational ARMS.
First of all, why the name ARMS?
fter years of playing different styles of music, I moved to New York in 2004 and finally just started finding my voice, or whatever you want to call it -- making music that felt personal and real to me. Since I needed a name for the project, I began making lists and looking for a name that struck me at gut level. Around the same time there was a British rapper in the whole 2004 wave of grime artists called "Ears" and I liked the idea of a pseudonymous songwriter named after a plural body part -- it suited me, and it felt like it suited the music style as well. I settled on ARMS because of the double entendre -- arms for hugging vs arms for killing, and so forth. I decided to make arms in all caps because I wanted [the audience] to see the word almost as a symbol, a visual thing, before thinking about its possible meanings. Seemed like a good way to go.
You played with a few different bands and recorded the first ARMS LP "Kids Aflame" by yourself- when was the point were you decided you wanted to focus on ARMS and make it into a full band project?
Ultimately, I just really like playing in a band. I could have played by myself forever, living in the echo-chamber of my mind, but I like collaboration and I like playing live with a band onstage, so there you go. Matty [bass] knew my old Harlem Shakes bandmates from college and while I was still in [my old band], he told me that if I ever needed anyone to play with, I should give him a call. Tlacael was in a band I admired called Frances, and they were just winding down -- I also just thought he was the best drummer in town -- so I asked him to join us. We pulled Dave from our little family of bands that all knew each other, and he knew his way around effects and weird vintage synths, so we pulled him in too. In retrospect, it was kind of shockingly easy to get ARMS, the band, together. I'm pretty thankful for that.
What was the songwriting process like for “Summer Skills”? What input did Dave, Matt and Tlacael have in the recording and songwriting process?
Nearly all the songs on the first EP (except "Heat & Hot Water") were all written by me -- but with Summer Skills, it turned into a really dynamic, back-and-forth creative process. I would come into the practice space with a baby-sized song and we'd mess around with that, taking the chorus out and adding something else we'd been working on, and then I would take that Frankenstein home again, and the process would repeat itself. The writing for the album was, all told, nearly a three-year process, but there are bits of songs and pieces of things from songs I wrote when I was fifteen. It was kind of like when characters fight in Looney Tunes -- a bunch of arms and legs popping out of a spinning cyclone, and you didn’t really know whose arm is what and whose leg is whose, but the whole thing moves forward and when you're done, you'r somewhere else from where you started.Summer Skills is a concept album, and while we were working on it the story unfolded like the plot of a movie. We treated the tracklist as a storyboard --sometimes there would be a hole in the plot and we’d have to determine what kind of song would fit in that space in order to further the the story while keeping the emotional flow and tone intact. I think some of the best songs on the album were written that way, actually. It was tough to get the process underway, but once we had an objective in mind, it was a lot of fun.
hat is your favorite song to perform (or a song that you love when people tell you they love)? What is a song you’re sick of performing? Lately, I’ve been loving “Fleeced”- I feel like a superhero when I play that song. And I guess I do love “Emily Sue, Cont'd” deep down, but I’ve gotten sick of it lately as it' the oldest song from the record, written in 2006.
The new album has a kind of nostalgic, melancholy beauty to it, especially “Curtains” and “Sore” and especially “Summer Skills”. What kind of events inspired the album and its creation? What were you listening to? The new album crystallized after Harlem Shakes broke up, and I'd also ended a very long relationship it was essentially a year of rebuilding and reassessing. I've always loved really, truly sad music. And while the band was we working on the songs for Summer Skills, this one particular, indescribably sad tone kept coming up over and over again and we all agreed that we had to hone in on it. We tried to hit that tone from every possible angle, that particular nostalgic melancholy thing that we knew was ours alone.What was different about our nostalgic tone was that it wasn’t a nostalgia for a specific stylistic past, as a lot of bands are incorporating into their music lately. I think ours is a specifically emotional nostalgia, a sort of dark, regret-tinged thing I learned from Low, Neil Young, REM, Talking Heads to some degree. That’s what ARMS has always been, on some level -- me trying to carve out a slice of the sadness I found in the music I loved.
he other members of the band are in other great NYC bands (Tlacel in Friend Roulette and ILLMNTR, Matt in ILLMNTR and his own thing, Dave records with electronic producers) and you worked for electronic label Ghostly International. How do these different influences play into ARMS’ music?
If the other ARMS-affiliated bands affect us musically, it's to push us to define our sound more. Everyone else's bands are just so incredible, and they're all so different from each other. It's a constellation, and we need to represent our star as best we can. We have a little family and scene going, and it's constantly inspiring.orking for Ghostly for so many years was great -- writing all their artist bios and press materials and such -- showed me the pure imagination of electronic music. Ghostly is a label's label, and an exemplary repository for electronic and semi-electronic music, and getting to pick the brains of extraordinary artists like Matthew Dear, Shigeto, Choir of Young Believers, School of Seven Bells and Mux Mool was a great experience. Most of what I listen to, at this point, has some electronic component, and I'm always fascinated by the imaginary acoustic space of it all. Listening to a band playing instruments in a room is cool, but there's much more out there, and I like to think we incorporate a little of that imagination in our music.
A lot of bands who gain enough fans and attention then sign to small record labels, but ARMS has done everything independently. Why have you decided to go that route?
Quite honestly, we really didn’t have a choice. We recorded Summer Skills with Shane Stoneback (Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells, Cults) on our own dime, shopped it around to literally every label in the land, and came up pretty much empty handed. We would have loved to put this record out on a label, but the music-gods weren't smiling upon us at that particular moment, and so Summer Skills was ultimately self-released. It's tough -- we've had a lot of doors slammed in our faces recently. But, you know, you keep on doing it, because that's what you do. It’s not easy to be serious about being in a band these days, but we love the music part, so we keep doing it.
What are some NYC bands that you’re all really liking right now/would love to play a show with?
All of my bandmates’ bands (ILLMNTR, Friend Roulette, Matty’s solo material) are incredible. Dave's work with Nicolas Jaar as Darkside is a wonderful project. Bear in Heaven has been one of the best bands in NYC for years now. Hospitality is a one of our best bandfriends and we play with them as much as we can. North Highlands too. I also just recently saw my friend Andrew Fox's band Visuals for the first time, and they kind of blew my mind.
What are upcoming plans for 2012 and for ARMS?
We're headed down to SXSW next month, and we'll be doing a bunch of regional touring in DC, Philly, and Boston afterward, as well as the usual NYC shows. We’re also going to be putting out a single very soon that’s actually a rearranged version of the Summer Skills title track, a Talking Heads-y dance track kind of version. It will be a free single and will be released within the next week or so. We're also hoping to get EP2 in the can within the next few months.
What is your favorite part about being a Brooklyn band?
I feel like if you ask anyone, they'll tell you that the best and worst thing about being in a New York band is that you’re surrounded constantly by other bands. I heard somewhere that, statistically, Brooklyn has more bands per capita than anywhere else in the world. And while it’s awesome to be constantly surrounded by people trying to express themselves, that density means it’s hard to differentiate yourself. As a band, you have to bring something either intensely familiar or particularly outlandish to the table if you want people to notice you. Or, you know, you can just keep doing your thing until the music-gods take notice.
"Summer Skills is a concept album, and while we were working on it the story unfolded like the plot of a movie. We treated the tracklist as a storyboard --sometimes there would be a hole in the plot and we’d have to determine what kind of song would fit in that space in order to further the the story while keeping the emotional flow and tone intact." ARMS: "Heat & Hot Water " by Bullett Media
ARMS "Summer Skills "
Wonderfully catchy and lush indie pop songs with a wistful edge